"Well, it was a good week for us. We had two wins, one on the road and one at home. I feel good about our team but know that we've got so much work to do and so many ways that we can get better. You're just like every team down the stretch; you're trying to get better from one day to the next, and hopefully it'll show up on game day. My team has gotten better as the season has gone along, but we still have a long way to go."
Talk a little bit about the communication that you've had with your team as the season has gone along. I know that early in the season you talked about coming out of a time out, trying to get a play done, and you had a hard time sometimes with that and there were some frustrating moments. I'm sure that a lot of has attributed to youth, but here the last four weeks or so, it seems like we've seen dramatic improvement from your team in just about every area. How much of a factor has the improvement and communication been?
"Well, the communication has been a lot better, not only from our bench to the players, but from the players themselves. One play early yesterday Michael Snaer runs a baseline, Dexter loses him, and we don't communicate very well, and he gets a wide open three right in front of our bench. A few minutes later after a time-out, we said, 'Guys, you've got to talk, you've got to see what's going on.' And P.J. made a really nice switch when Leslie got hit by the screen and switched out to Snaer, and Michael missed the shot, but Leslie -- when P.J. switched out, Leslie took his man and tried to front the low post guy.
"So the communication has gotten better from the bench to the players and then the players themselves I think were talking better than-- by a hundred million miles better than we were early in the season. But I think you hit it when you asked the question, that we're so young, and particularly in the start of the season getting them to understand something quickly and be able to put it into play on the court is something that all young teams struggle with, and we've got a bunch of teams in our league that are really, really young and have struggled with that quite a bit."
So many people want to talk about the game with Duke. When you have a young team, how do you make sure they're focused on the next one, and as for the next one, what are your thoughts about Maryland leaving the conference?
"Well, I think that we are a young team, but my team has been pretty grounded the last -- once we got past December, they've understood a little bit more about what we're talking about. I think they'll understand how good Maryland has been at home and who they've beaten at home and that we have to play every single day down the stretch. We've done some nice things here the last couple of weeks, but I tell them all the time, every play matters in every game, and every game surely matters during your schedule.
"There's no difference, you don't get any more credit for beating Duke than you do for beating anybody else. It's all just one game, and I think the kids will understand that and realize how significant a task it is going to play a very good Maryland team on their home court where they've been really, really good. And so for us, that's the way we'll look at it. The question about them leaving the conference, I hate it because I think Maryland has been part of the ACC for a long time, but they chose to do what they thought was best for their school and their athletic department.
"If this is the last time that we play up there, I hope we win, and if it's not the last time we play up there, I hope we win. But those kind of things are out of control of the coaches. The whole scenario is so ridiculous, who knows what's going to happen next."
I can't remember exactly what you said about P.J.'s footwork, but you had made a comment about his footwork not being the best at some point in his career. Could you sort of walk me back through that, and have you noticed an improvement now that he's playing this bigger role and more minutes?
"Well, I don't know exactly what we're talking about when we say footwork, but the two things that come to mind is when he came here the first day as a freshman, I said, 'P.J., you can't keep kicking your right foot out there in front, you don't have good balance.'
"Somebody that's supposed to be a great shooter has got to go up, be balanced, have both feet on the ground, come back down hopefully in the same spot and be balanced when you come down. We preached that to him all year last year and a good portion of this year, including one day at practice last week.
"I said, 'P.J., your right foot is back out in front,' and I sat there beside of him and not looking at the shot at all, just looking at his feet, and I said, 'Good, good, bad.' And the first shot went in, the second shot went in and the third did not. If that's what you're talking about, that's the way we've tried to attack it. If it's footwork and getting around in front the low post guy, which is what we talked a little bit about in the game yesterday, is that he's-- he hadn't played the post position, but as a 4 man you've got to be able to guard somebody in the post, so we've got to work on his pivot defense."
I was asking about the shot specifically, about kicking the leg out. Do you think that part is generally better then?
"Well, it's better, but it's an everyday occurrence. I mean, I'm serious. There was one day last week in practice, I stood there and watched three shots, and I called -- and never looked at the ball and got all three of them right just because of his footwork. It's a habit that he's got to get out of, and sometimes he does-- yesterday he came down on the break and shot twice from almost the same identical spot, and both of them looked really good, and one went in and one didn't. So it's not the only factor. But you're never going to be a good shooter if you don't have good balance; I don't care who you are."
I'm going to take you in a different direction. Your background with Michael Jordan, I'm working on a story taking a look at the history of the dunk, and I thought you would be a guy who could share a little bit of a perspective here. How did Michael change the game given his athleticism and his ability as a dunker?
"Well, I've been asked about that, but the athleticism -- there were other guys in the NBA before Michael that were really athletic. Dominique [Wilkins] was in the league when Michael got there and that kind of thing, so there were some. But Michael, just his ability to control the ball in the air, and it seemed like Michael always was in the air longer than anybody else, and Michael was one of those guys who could jump vertically straight up a long way, and he could also do the broad jump, the dunk from the foul line kind of thing. Michael could jump off both feet, but he was fantastic jumping off of one foot on the break, too. There was no hole in his game about his acrobatic play in the air.
"But he could move the ball around because of those big hands more so than a lot of people, and then the other thing is he had a great flair for the game. I mean, I remember his dunk at the end of the Maryland game up at Cole Field House, and that was one of the early ones, and that was the 'rock the cradle baby' or whatever the dickens it was.
"But there were things that Michael could do and would try to do more so than other people, but again, saying -- Dominique was up there in the league at least one year before Michael, and very few people did it like Dominique. At the same time there was a guy named Julius Irving that was up there even before that. So I just think that Michael had the great hands and the great ability to move things around in the air and stay up there a little longer than most people, and then he had a tremendous flair, and I think if you added all that, and he didn't mind dunking over people and telling them he was going to and then telling them about doing it after he did it, too."
If I could add to that very quickly, from a broader perspective, how do you feel the implementation of the dunk coming back in the '70s changed the game of basketball and whether or not there's a negative or a positive connotation when it comes to fundamentals and the decline overall in those?
"Well, I think it was bad for the game when it was outlawed those few years in the '70s. I don't think the dunk is anything wrong with the game. I don't think it makes you be any more fundamentally sound. I love the dunk, and I love the power and taking the ball to the basket strong. Some guys may be older than me or even more corny than I am if that's possible, might say that they wished guy could just lay it up strong.
"But the size and the ability and the strength of the athletes today, those guys can block those shots, whereas it's awfully difficult to block a dunk. So for me I love the dunk. I just tell my guys all the time, if you're going to try to dunk it, then make it. I tell them, if you can't dunk, don't try to. So for me I think the dunk has been very good for the game. The fans like it. The game is not just meant for coaches."
Going into the last week of the regular season you guys still have a chance to be the second seed in the tournament, but you also have a chance to drop as low as five. Is that significant at all, to stay out of that fifth place and have to play on Thursday as opposed to getting the bye on Friday?
"Well, I think it is significant because you need to keep winning to stay out of that spot, and so we want to win every game, and so I think it's significant for that part. But I don't think it's the end-all if you end up fifth. It still means in this league you've had a pretty doggone good year, and us, Virginia and North Carolina State are it looks like going to be three, four and five, and I'm sure all of us would like to be in the top four and not play the first day. But it is significant, you'd like to have that, but I don't think it ends your season if you end up fifth. It just means you play on the first day. In some ways you get a little bit of a head start by having one game under your belt and not opening night jitters in the tournament that somebody else would do when you play them on the second day.
"So I think it's significant because you want to keep winning, but if I'm not mistaken, State was there last year and played well, and then played well in our tournament and then went on to the NCAA Tournament and played well."
I've been asking coaches about defensive players since we've got to pick an all-defensive team, and I'm a little clueless about that. You've seen everybody in the league now. Are there two or three guys that stand out in your mind as defensive stoppers in the league?
"Well, that's a hard question because I'm going through, okay, Miami is in first and the first person that comes to my mind there is Kenny Kadji because I think in our game here he had three big blocks at the end of the game and had two big blocks I think it was down there, and with his size and being able to play some people out on the floor, I think that was good. Jimmy Larranaga may not like his defense, but I know he did some great things against us defensively.
"Duke, Mason Plumlee makes it hard around that basket, as well. Lorenzo Brown from North Carolina State I think sets the tone. He's got quick hands, long arms and does some things. I think Joe Harris is a much better athlete than people give him credit for, and Joe has had a couple of steals, a couple of blocks that you say, wow, that kid is good.
"But that's a hard question to answer. I think if I've got to vote on one of those teams, I want to take some time to go through every team in our league. I think Reggie Bullock for us is really a guy that I think does a great job defensively, and Marcus Paige defensively the second half of the season has been light years better than he was at the start of the season. If they ask me to pick that team, I'm going to take quite a bit of time."